At a recent WRAL TechWire event, former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chief of staff Blair Levin urged North Carolina communities to seek a repeal of a state law that restricts local telecommunications authority, reports WRAL TechWire.
“When the new General Assembly returns to Raleigh, tell the assembly to tear down the law that prevents faster, cheaper broadband,” Levin said in a keynote address at the WRAL TechWire Executive Exchange in Wilson, N.C. Wilson's municipal Greenlight network is among the first in the nation to offer high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access.
Currently, North Carolina law HB 129 prevents Wilson from expanding its Internet access service area beyond Wilson County and discourages other communities from investing in similar infrastructure. HB 129 was the subject of a legal battle when the city of Wilson (pop. 50,000) wanted to provide Internet access to neighboring Pinetops (pop. 1,400) and other communities beyond the limitations of the state law. They challenged the law, as did Chattanooga, which faced slightly different restrictions in Tennessee.
In February of 2015, the FCC ordered that Wilson could serve communities beyond the county borders, but both states appealed, challenging the agency's authority. The federal appeals court reversed that ruling in August 2016.
Under the provisions of the North Carolina law, Wilson could lose it's exemption to offer service at all, but by temporarily providing free telephone and Internet access to Pinetops, they protect their exemption. Two state legislators have vowed to take action and try to get the state law changed during the next legislative session.
Levin Praises Wilson
Levin credited Wilson with being the bright city on hill, when eight years ago it built a broadband infrastructure because private companies weren’t interested in doing it. Wilson’s success inspired other rural areas to want to duplicate their success, but state regulations now prevent that.
Levin also praised Wilson for not accepting the status quo but finding a way to get high-speed Internet connectivity to its community.
Besides Levin’s keynote speech, the TechWire program included a live "fireside chat" about Greenlight with Wilson City Manager Grant Goings and panel discussions. WRAL TechWire’s Executive Exchange event was titled “Building a gigabit ecosystem.” WRAL TechWire serves the North Carolina Triangle region that includes the cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
The Only Way To Greatness
Levin knows that the future depends on connecting everyone. From his speech:
I do not want to suggest that having a gigabit network will solve all our problems. Addressing other challenges —from climate change to quality of education to the ability to attract an educated and diverse workforce—must be part of the mix.
But at some point in the near future the kind of network you have today, one that thousands of communities wish they had, will be the new table stakes for addressing both the challenges and opportunities of this century to build a better life for ourselves, our children, and the generations to follow.
And when those generations arrive, I hope that America is still great. I hope its residents and the world will see it as a shining city on the hill that we have aspired to be since our earliest days, that Reagan so eloquently described.
Predictions about the future, as Yogi Berra usefully reminded us, are always tricky. But this prediction is safe: America will not be great if it does not have great broadband.
Read the full text of Levin's speech, titled: "Make America Great - with Great Broadband."